Right now, Canadian workplaces are experiencing a wellness revolution. Employers have come to recognize the value of human capital and the effect that wellness has on workers. The theory goes, “If we look after them, they’ll look after us.” It means that employers who invest in worker wellness are seeing returns in the form of:
- Higher reports of job satisfaction
- Better rates of retention
- Increased productivity
- Reduced absenteeism
- Higher organizational commitment behaviours (going above and beyond job duties)
Workplace wellness wasn’t a big organizational focus for companies until relatively recently. Over the last few decades, human resource management has evolved from a heavily administrative personnel department into a strategic key component of an organization’s overall goals and objectives. With that switch came a greater focus on the wellness of employees. It makes good business sense to look after worker wellness. In addition to the benefits listed above, the triple bottom line is also positively affected.
What is the Triple Bottom Line?
In today’s competitive global market, companies cannot rely on profit alone to survive. The triple bottom line is a company’s:
- Social and community contributions
- Environmental impact
Socially responsible companies value human capital. This means that the worth of the workforce isn’t undermined at the cost of safety or wellness in order to increase productivity. Workplace wellness practices that serve to benefit the human capital are part of the triple bottom line. Organizations need wellness programs in order to start meeting triple bottom line directives and goals – it’s not just about profit anymore. It’s about financial growth, people, the environment, and protecting the best interests of the human capital involved with helping the organization meets its goals.
Activities for Workplace Wellness
There are many, many activities that organizations might consider implementing in order to increase workplace wellness. Like most programs, a tailored program that speaks to your company’s specific needs is best. Wellness is a pretty all-encompassing concept. It refers to the wellness of the mind and body. Don’t overlook benefits to one in favour of the other. Mind and body are synergistic human elements. Be sure that your organization’s wellness program focuses on both.
There is a saying that a healthy body houses a healthy mind. Science can back that up. It’s been shown that exercise releases endorphins, which are the brain’s feel-good hormones. Exercise and fitness also help combat obesity. In Canada, over 45,000 people die from conditions related to obesity each year. Many employers offer drug and dental benefits, but they neglect to add a benefit to allow workers to address fitness needs. Fitness programs in the workplace can take many forms, such as:
- A subsidized credit that contributes to a gym membership
- A corporate gym membership
- On-site fitness facilities
- Hiring instructors to deliver lunch-hour fitness sessions throughout the year
- Organizing a company sports team
- Encouraging office workers to stand up and take short walks throughout the day
Ergonomic Wellness Programs
Ergonomic programs aren’t just for office workers. In fact, many physical labour roles require more ergonomic support than seated roles. Twisting, bending, lifting, and reaching, all take a toll on the body. So does sitting. Some studies suggest that sitting is the new smoking. Occupational sitting has deadly consequences if the risks aren’t mitigated. An ergonomic wellness program can take many forms, such as:
- Ergonomic assessment for all employees
- Ergonomic assessment and assistance to set up workstations as part of new employee orientation training programs
- Mechanisms for requesting ergonomic aids such as chairs, footrests, computer accessories, etc.
- Ergonomic monitoring and re-assessment as needed
Feed the body; feed the mind. Garbage in; garbage out. Proverbs like these make it clear that there’s a link between food and the brain. In the workplace, nutrition programs can take various forms. Nutrition programs don’t always mean good nutrition. Sometimes a nutrition program is simply accessible food, which is still beneficial to worker wellness. It saves workers money if the food is subsidized, and it saves workers the time spent grocery shopping and packing lunches. Some workplaces offer on-site food services. Other workplaces try to support good nutrition through education and resources. While your organization certainly doesn’t have to do both, a nutrition program in the workplace may include some of the following elements:
- Subsidized breakfast, lunch, or both
- On-site fruit baskets for healthy snacking
- Vending machines with a variety of options, including healthy choices
- Access to a dietician or nutritionist
- A subsidy for nutritional supplements
- Beverage fridges with fruit juice and sparkling water, and sodas for a treat
- Monthly catered lunches
- Coffee, tea, and filtered water for employees free of charge
- Kitchen facilities to encourage workers to bring healthy homemade lunches
On-site Massage and Stretching Programs
Sometimes work can be stressful; it doesn’t matter what line of work you’re in! Some organizations are participating in a fairly new trend of bringing on-site registered massage therapists to the workplace to offer massages to workers in need. It increases relaxation and can help to reduce stress. In addition, massage therapy has been shown to help reverse the effects of using a poor posture at desks. If on-site massage therapy is practicable in your company, consider covering the cost of massage therapy, or instituting stretching breaks. A stretching break can take place two or three times throughout the day. Stretch breaks can be done a number of ways, such as:
- Elect a stretch leader daily or weekly
- Set an email alert to remind people when stretch breaks occur
- Start by walking around the building outside to loosen up after sitting
- Gather in a safe communal area
- Complete six-ten stretches, holding each for at least 30 seconds.
- Be sure to stretch legs, arms, core, neck, and back!
Some companies are responding to the need for workplace wellness by instituting pet-friendly policies. No, the organizations aren’t also trying to ensure your pets’ wellness. But, they are concerned with yours, and your wellness is tied to the health of your pet. Being around your pet increases oxytocin, another one of those feel-good chemicals produced by the brain. Pet-friendly policies take various forms, but may include:
- “Paw”-ternity leaves for workers who get new puppies or kittens
- Bereavement policies that extend to the loss of a pet
- Dog-friendly office environments
- Flex time to allow for vet appointments or care time for sick pets
EAPs and Other Benefits
Many organizations offer health and dental benefits for workers and their families. While these account for basic health needs, they aren’t enough. They are a solid foundation for an overall employee wellness program. In order to strengthen the supports and services offered through employment benefit programs, consider an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). EAPs are a crucial part of an employee wellness program. They give workers access to:
- Free short-term counselling
- Crisis counsellors
- Debt counsellors
- Legal advice
- Grief counselling
- Gambling and addiction support
- Marriage support
Drowning in a debt, grief over the loss of a close loved one, or a failing marriage is going to affect workers in drastic ways. Productivity will plummet, motivation will all but disappear, and they may only be a reflection of the person they were. Employers can always offer support and an open door, but sometimes it’s better to have a professional support system in place. If your benefits program doesn’t have an EAP already, consider putting one in place. Of all of the wellness programs listed above, an EAP may prove the most valuable to workers. An EAP may also have the most value for employers. Helping workers deal with big life problems effectively means that they’ll be more focused on the job, which affects productivity, workplace safety, and the triple bottom line.
Invest in Workplace Wellness
There’s always a desire to see a positive ROI (Return on Investment) for business expenditures. When it comes to workplace wellness programs, the ROI can be measured by examining employee engagement, productivity, and general job satisfaction. As well, wellness programs increase retention, and they can be powerful recruitment tools. Top talent looks at more than just wages and job descriptions when applying to companies. They want companies that offer a total package, including an active workplace wellness program. When it comes to workplace wellness programs, the only limit to what an organization can do is imagination. (Well, maybe finances, too.) The point is, worker wellness programs can vary, are totally customizable, and are worth the effort!
Written by Jennifer Miller | Curriculum Development Coordinator
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